When God is a Four-Letter Word

It’s been a very long time since I’ve written anything here, but not for lack of anything to say. It’s a very odd season in my life. My work and financial situations are in turmoil and it’s been a genuine effort to stay positive and not get bogged down by it all. This has presented an interesting backdrop to uncertainty and change in other areas of my life.

This blog has largely been a place for me to explore the constantly shifting ground of what we might popularly (and blandly) call ‘spirituality.’ I started writing here two years ago as a first attempt at moving past the psycho-spiritual paralysis I had been experiencing and wrestle with the previous years’ horrors. From this emerged a kind of hard-earned agnostic peace last Spring. And from that place of peace, not only have I been able to embark on this (ongoing and difficult) adventure of starting over in a new city, but this Fall I have also been able to start cautiously re-engaging with Christian faith on more than an intellectual level.  I have been attending services with some regularity at an Anglican parish, I have recovered prayer, and I have been able to read Christian literature again. This process has been good and gentle. The biggest problem is simply that I’m not sure if I believe in God.

I recognize how odd this is. So much of me identifies so strongly with the Gospel, and yet I’m not in a place where I can commit to its fundamental metaphysical belief. In some ways this isn’t really surprising for me. Belief in God for me is complicated by a number of factors:

  1. I’ve never ‘needed’ the concept of God to explain the universe; I’ve never believed in ‘God’ in the generic, only in God as revealed by/in Jesus of Nazareth.
  2. I accept the psychological evidence that suggests that even if ‘god(s)’ did not exist, we would invent them because of the psychological factors that make us human (i.e., Our ability to conceptualize that other people have thinking minds is impossible to turn off, which is why we have conversations with our pets, speak of our computers and toaster ovens as being ‘temperamental,’ and genuinely sense that the trees have ears; see Jesse Bering’s brilliant book The Belief Instinct for more on this, if it interests you).
  3. I’m utterly burnt out on metaphysics and just don’t care.
  4. Whereas the best people I’ve met have been distributed fairly evenly among believers, agnostics, and atheists, the vast majority of the truly damaging people I have met have been motivated by their belief in God.
  5. Most complicated of all, I gave thirteen years of my adult life to my faith in God and it left me deeply damaged and traumatized: When you have screamed into the darkness for God in the midst of despair and been met with nothing but the coldest silence from the abyss in response, it’s almost impossible to conceive of believing again.

And yet, I cannot shake the man Jesus, and no matter what else he might have been or believed, his belief in God was unquestionable. Also, while I find the idea of “God” problematic, it’s not that I believe in nothing. I believe strongly in Goodness, Beauty, Wisdom, Love, Grace, Peace, and more. And I believe in these in a positive sense, in a concrete sense, not simply as abstract principles.

What’s interesting here is that, it is things such as these that comprised what the Eastern Fathers called “the Energies of God” (‘Energy” here is a technical term and could probably better be translated as “Workings”)  and it is these Energies through which they believed God could be known. So maybe this isn’t strange in the least. Maybe some day, belief in these things will lead to belief in God. Maybe, despite all my joking about God being a four-letter word, I will find again that He is in fact a four-letter word:  Love.

Looking at this new season, this unexpected potential for renewed faith, it is obvious that any new faith I might come to would have to be rather different from my previous faith. There is no going back in life, only going forward. And any kind of faith I discover will have to incorporate and reclaim within it all my experiences of trauma, pain, and abandonment. That in itself would be interesting.

But right now, I’m just enjoying the gentleness, which is one privilege my previous life did not allow me.



One thought on “When God is a Four-Letter Word

  1. Paul Graham October 18, 2014 / 4:15 am

    It’s fascinating to me how, without knowing you, our stories seem similar in many ways. I’m glad you are re-encountering God. I hope that continues. I hope that I might be there one day – as you seem to have led the way in re-establishing yourself in a new city, maybe you will also have led the way through the forest of spiritual doubt.

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